Things That Matter

The Supreme Court Is Deciding Whether It Should Criminalize Pro-Immigrant Speech

The First Amendment seemed like one law that would go unchallenged in the United States. With bipartisan support and the general consensus that freedom of speech is a tenet of democracy seemed to ensure its safety. However, the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of United States v. Sineneng-Smith. 

The judges will decide if pro-immigrant speech that might encourage undocumented immigrants to illegally enter the United States is unlawful. The verdict could have serious consequences not just for migrants but for their advocates as well. 

The Supreme Court has a conservative majority and the current iteration of the Republican party has taken a rather extreme anti-immigrant stance lately, two factors which could heavily affect the outcome of the decision. 

The case concerns an obscure “encouragement provision” of immigration law.

According to Slate, a section in our immigration code forbids the encouragement of an “alien” to reside in the United States if the individual has no legal status. The case made its away to the Supreme Court by way of Evelyn Sineneng-Smith. 

Sineneng-Smith was charged and convicted of fraud by the Trump administration when, as an immigration consultant, she incorrectly told clients they could stay in the U.S. under a program she had already known ended. However, prosecutors also convicted her on the encouragement provision. 

The issue is Sineneng-Smith is being charged for what she said on a very literal basis. The fraud is the obvious wrong-doing, but now the courts will have to decide: are the words themselves? 

What if it is an undocumented person’s best course of action to remain in the U.S. without papers, which may be the case with our esoteric and fluctuating immigration system, on top of the implied moral conundrum.

“An advocate or lawyer now has to worry, given the government’s position in this case, that this language … may trigger criminal liability just for correctly advising a noncitizen,” Manny Vargas, senior counsel for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project in New York City, told Slate.

Advocates will be forced to second guess the advice they give to clients in fear of facing legal action. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Sineneng-Smith to appeal. 

Although the courts struck down Sineneng-Smith’s fraud appeal, they reversed the encouragement conviction. A three-judge majority believed the provision criminalizes constitutionally protected speech, therefore, violating the First Amendment. 

The judges asserted that the provision, “criminalizes a substantial amount of protected expression in relation to the statute’s narrow legitimate sweep,” and that it, “potentially criminalizes the simple words—spoken to a son, a wife, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, a student, a client—’I encourage you to stay here.’”

However, the Trump administration decided to legally challenge the 9th Circuit sending the case to the Supreme Court who could choose to either accept or reject the case. They chose to accept it. 

The encouragement provision provides “appropriate punishment for defendants who seek enrichment by incentivizing or procuring violations of the immigration laws by aliens who illegally enter or remain in the United States,” the government wrote in a court filing. 

The Trump Administration also suggested the 9th Circuit’s “hypotheticals” are hyperbole and that the provision is an essential law enforcement tool. 

The ACLU stands against the encouragement provision. 

 “Anytime you hear a government lawyer saying ‘trust us’ when our free speech rights are at stake, you should run in the other direction,” ACLU deputy legal director Cecillia Wang said

Wang noted that there cannot be any discourse about immigration if individuals are banned from mentioning the subject on social media. 

“I write an op-ed saying, ‘I disagree with the U.S. immigration laws and I believe that ‘Dreamers’ should stay in the U.S., you belong here,” she said. “I can’t leave it up to good faith in prosecutors not to come after me and try to throw me in federal prison for doing that.” 

Vargas believes that the fact that the Supreme Court has taken on the case, coupled with the Trump administration advocating for the provision itself — is not a good sign. According to Slate, the provision is little known that has existed for years but has rarely been enforced until now. 

The only thing that’s different now is that the current administration has amped up anti-immigrant rhetoric along with increasingly extreme tactics to enforce those sentiments. 

“The fact that the U.S. is looking to get the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s finding … is an indication that the government wants to use this provision,” Vargas told Slate. 

If you’re wondering if the Supreme Court could really ban freedom of speech in a country that regularly bans people from even entering it, that banned couples from getting married, that fairly recently banned one race from using the same water fountains as another race, then you might be asking the wrong questions.

A Section Of Border Wall Is At Risk Of Falling Into Rio Grande Months After Being Called The ‘Lamborghini Of Border Walls’

Things That Matter

A Section Of Border Wall Is At Risk Of Falling Into Rio Grande Months After Being Called The ‘Lamborghini Of Border Walls’

Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

Trump’s vanity project – that so many of his supporters hail as his greatest accomplishment – has hit another major setback. His planned border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has consisted of a mix of government-built and privately-built segments, and now one of the highest-profile segments is at literal risk of falling over into a river. How’s that for karma?

The segment in Texas, which its developer called the ‘Lamborghini’ of border walls, was poorly built along a massive flood plain and now erosion has left it in shambles, mere months after construction.

The “Lamborghini” of border walls is in danger of falling into the river if nothing is done.

Trump supporters funded a private border wall on the banks of the Rio Grande, helping the builder secure $1.7 billion in federal contracts. Now the “Lamborghini” of border walls is in danger of falling into the river if nothing is done, experts say.

This ‘Lamborghini’ of border walls is different from those that came before it, in that it could allegedly be built directly on the banks of the Rio Grande – a risky but potentially game-changing step when it came to the nation’s border wall system.

But engineering experts and hydrologists told ProPublica that despite the company’s claims, the wall was built too close to the Rio Grande and is in serious danger of collapse, as photos show “a series of gashes and gullies” along the base of the structure that have severely weakened the structure’s foundation.

According to reports, the foundation for the wall’s steel poles reach only 2.5 feet into the ground, less than one-third as deep as government usually requires. The shallow foundation combined with the rugged riverbank terrain is reportedly a recipe for disaster.

“When the river rises, it will likely attack those areas where the foundation is exposed, further weakening support of the fence and potentially causing portions … to fall into the Rio Grande,” Alex Mayer told ProPublica.

The geography of the Rio Grande has long been a roadblock to wall construction in the region.

Credit: Bend Bend National Park / USFS

A border wall has long existed in one form or another along much of Texas’s southern border. But it’s often existed miles away from the actual border with Mexico, thanks to the region’s diverse and difficult terrain. The Rio Grande Valley’s unique geography includes a wide floodplain that has forced the government to construct barriers inland, on top of a levee system. That has left swaths of farmland, cemeteries and even homes in a kind of no man’s land south of the fence.

Jude Benavides, a hydrologist, told ProPublica, that “People don’t appreciate the power of the Rio Grande when it does indeed wake up. It changes the landscape.”

The contractor has used the segment in Texas to secure billions of dollars worth of contracts to build additional wall in Arizona.

Just this May, the company, Fisher Sand & Gravel (FSG), a won a record-high $1.3 billion government contract to built a portion of Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. They won the approval even though the government’s own Army Corps of Engineers spoke out against FSG’s prototype for lack of “quality” and “sophistication.”

But like so many other Trump projects, the president inserted himself directly into the bidding process – helping FSG gain the contracts. No surprise: FSG’s director, Tommy Fisher, has been a frequent guest on Fox News and has played into Trump’s latest frustrations regarding his wall project, promising he would be able to build it faster and cheaper than any other contractor on the project.

The segment in Texas was built using private donations from some of Trump’s biggest supporters.

Credit: Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

As Trump faced opposition against his border wall vanity project in Congress, several non-profit groups sprung up in support of his border wall plan. That’s exactly how Fisher’s private fence projects got off the ground.

Both the New Mexico and South Texas projects were built with financial and political help from We Build The Wall, an influential conservative nonprofit – Trump supporter and political strategist Steven Bannon is a board member. In touting its project, the group claimed to have raised more than $25 million and agreements with landowners along 250 miles of riverfront property across Texas.

The Supreme Court Ruled In Favor Of Allowing States To Punish Electoral College

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The Supreme Court Ruled In Favor Of Allowing States To Punish Electoral College

Stefani Reynolds / Getty

News straight from the Supreme Court might just mean a more fair election this 2020. According to reports, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing states to reprimand members of the Electoral College should they break a pledge to vote for their state’s popular vote winner for presidential elections. The decision comes heavily on the heels of the looming election season.

The decision was sparked after 10 of the 538 presidential electors made their own decisions in 2016 and voted for candidates other than the one they’d pledged to vote for.

Up until Monday, only 32 out of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia had laws that discouraged “faithless electors.” At that time, none of the states had ever actually reprimanded or removed an elector based on their vote. The Supreme Court decision came with a 9-0 count.

“Today, we consider whether a State may also penalize an elector for breaking his pledge and voting for someone other than the presidential candidate who won his State’s popular vote. We hold that a State may do so,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote.”The Constitution’s text and the Nation’s history both support allowing a State to enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee — and the state voters’ choice — for President.”

In 2016, three presidential electors in Washington state voted for Colin Powell over the popular votes push for Hillary Clinton. Another voted for anti-Keystone XL pipeline activist Faith Spotted Eagle. At the time, Washington’s Supreme Court upheld a $1,000 fine.

In Colorado, during the 2016 election, Micheal Baca attempted to vote for John Kasich instead of Clinton but his vote was rejected. He was removed and replaced and referred for a potential perjury prosecution. No charges were filed, however. According to CNN, Baca “filed suit, and ultimately won when the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals held that while the state does have the power to appoint electors, that does not extend to the power to remove them.”

Oddly, Frodo Baggins, the beloved hobit from the Lord of The Rings trilogy became a part of the court’s historical record during oral arguments.

According to reports, Justice Clarence Thomas used Baggins as an example “The elector who had promised to vote for the winning candidate could suddenly say, ‘You know, I’m going to vote for Frodo Baggins. I really like Frodo Baggins.’ And you’re saying, under your system, you can’t do anything about that,” Thomas asked.

During the case, Justice Kagan went through the history of the Electoral College and spoke about the presidential election of 1796. The election was the first contested presidential election in the United States and saw John Adams come in first and Thomas Jefferson second. “That meant the leaders of the era’s two warring political parties—the Federalists and the Republicans—became President and Vice President respectively. (one might think of this as fodder of the new season of Veep),” Kagan wrote.

Kagan also referenced Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical “Hamilton” nothing that “Alexander Hamilton secured his place on the Broadway stage—but possibly in the cemetery too—by lobbying Federalists in the House to tip the election to Jefferson, whom he loathed but viewed as less of an existential threat to the republic,” she wrote. Justice Thomas agreed with Kagan writing “nothing in the Constitution prevents States from requiring Presidential electors to vote for the candidate chosen by the people.”

Here’s hoping this new change in the Supreme Court ruling ensures a better election outcome.